IoT Blog
IoT Blog

IoT Technology is Key to The Future of Farming

by Remy Marcotorchino, Director of Marketing, Industrial & Infrastructure
The future of farming is already here, thanks to IoT-connected sensors for agriculture and environmental monitoring. These seemingly insignificant tools do more than just measure the temperature of the air or how much humidity you have in your greenhouse. They’re capable of completely transforming the way that we think about farming, from how early in the season crops are planted, to how quickly farmers can respond to impending storms—and for many, they are significantly lowering the cost of operation. Not only is it easier than ever to install connected sensors for agriculture and environmental monitoring, but farmers can also enjoy a number of additional benefits that are key to the future of farming.

Sensors Can Control Nearly Everything 

Today’s sensors for agriculture and environmental monitoring are far more advanced than they were even a few years ago. In the past, farmers might have had a sensor to detect changes in temperature or soil moisture levels, but these two readings weren’t connected. They had to gather these separate pieces of data on their own and piece them together manually. Now, these sensors can be in constant communication with one another, allowing farmers to see the bigger picture of what’s happening across the farming operation in real time. 

Sensors for environmental controls, like humidity, air temperature, irrigation, soil composition and soil moisture are needed to provide insights into conditions. Other types of sensors can gove even greater control over business operations, from LED lighting controls for greenhouses to pivot monitoring with GNSS capabilities built right into the equipment. Farmers can monitor tanks and silos, and track their product as it moves through the supply chain. In theory, there is a sensor for every step in the farming process, from the time the seed is planted to the moment a fully-grown vegetable arrives by truck to the consumer.

How IoT-Connected Sensors Modernize Farming 

This could leave some to wonder, “Are all of these sensors really necessary? Farmers have succeeded for hundreds of years without sensors!” But today, they’re more important than ever before, especially as farmers work to generate maximum yield from increasingly smaller plots of land. Let’s say that you have a greenhouse that uses LED lighting in the growing process. You could manually turn the lights off and on at certain times of the day. You could also slowly adjust the lighting to create ideal conditions during various stages in the growth cycle, however, this is time-consuming and a number of additional problems can arise from this method. You could forget to turn the lights on or off, or some of the bulbs might burn out. The temperature inside of the greenhouse might get too hot, and you might not catch this problem immediately, resulting in crop damage. With lighting sensors that are connected to temperature sensors and other environmental controls, the lighting controls itself, which saves wasted energy costs and keeps crops healthier. 

Similarly, soil moisture sensors help prevent expensive mistakes like over or under-watering crops, and save money on water. Remote controlled water and fertilizer pumps save multiple trips to the field, which also reduces costs. Today’s sensors for agriculture and environmental monitoring are extremely accurate and will only become more refined in the future, and will continue to provide connected farming operations with a competitive advantage. 

You Don’t Need a Data Center or Expensive Installation 

Many assume that it’s extremely expensive to install connected sensors for agriculture and environmental monitoring, but this isn’t always the case. Today’s sensors can run on extremely low power, and there are many connectivity options. Since this equipment is small, efficient, streamlined and easily connected to cellular networks, installation is fast and relatively inexpensive.  In addition, new cellular LPWA technology, such as LTE-M and NB-IoT, allow for enhanced coverage compared to traditional 2G/3G cellular technologies and even LTE. Difficulty reaching rural locations with cellular will be a thing of the past.

Once sensor equipment is installed, farmers have control over the data collected. In the past, that data might have been routed through a data collector or server for processing. In some cases, this would cause a delay resulting in damage to crops. For instance, if the temperature in the greenhouse rises to a dangerous level during a particularly hot summer day, a delay in data collection could mean that crops spend hours longer in those conditions than if that information had been available the moment it happened. Now, low power sensors can feed data directly into a cloud platform, which sends an alert immediately if there’s a change in the environment. Farmers control their own data and thus have more control over the entire operation.  

Today’s technology can also enable intelligence at the edge, meaning sensors don’t need to send a continuous flow of data over cellular; it’s only sent when environmental changes are recognized. This saves critical cellular data fees over the life of the project. Putting more intelligence at the edge, which is easily managed in the cloud as well, is key to a more efficient deployment in the field.

Start with Sierra to learn more about the IoT technology that’s modernizing farming operations.